Sea Otter News: Shimano XTR Gains New XC Bits

Shimano adds lighter bottom bracket, brakes and carbon wheels to XTR offerings

By Vernon Felton
Photos courtesy of Shimano

At first blush, it probably doesn’t sound like a huge revelation: Shimano gives XTR more of a cross-country edge… Wasn’t XTR already a cross-country group. Yes. And no. Or, well, maybe sometimes.

Here’s the deal: XTR has morphed with the times since it was released 22 years ago. Every four years or so, Shimano typically unveils a new generation of XTR that veers either towards the cross-country side of the spectrum or the more rough and tumble trail/all-mountain end of things. The last time that Shimano rebirthed XTR, (back in 2011) the company went a different route; issuing a core group of components, augmented by a smattering of both lightweight cross-country and more rugged trail components. You the rider were able to choose the flavor of XTR that best suited your style of riding.

Well, in a further break from tradition, Shimano is deviating from the once-every-four-years redesign schedule with today’s debut of yet more, ultra-light, XC-flavored XTR parts. For 2014, Shimano’s is introducing a few more cross-country flavored widgets to its XTR series. To be specific, Shimano will add lighter hydraulic disc brake and drivetrain components, as well as ultra-lightweight carbon, tubular 29er wheels.

If you’d told me a week ago that Shimano would be plunkind down some more cross-country oriented components to XTR, I’d have thought you barking mad. The general wisdom (and stats) suggest that the number of people who want to strap on a number plate and go race a cross-country event is on a serious decline. That, in fact, has been true for years now.

Why then roll out even more parts exclusively tailored to that set?

Well, Shimano is clearly reading the data from an entirely different page than us. Shimano MTB product manager, Matt Robertson, noted that cross-country racing is growing and pointed to the explosion of high school racing clubs across the country. While I doubt most teenagers could afford a set of carbon tubulars, there’s no denying that there’s still interest from a sizeable number of consumers in an ultra-lite component group. Shimano, as you’ll see here, is delivering on that score.

The new M987 brake is 40 grams lighter than the current XTR M985 version. Weight savings come courtesy of a magnesium master cylinder and caliper, carbon brake levers and titanium fasteners. Excess heat is the hobgoblin of braking performance and is a particular problem when dealing with components made of magnesia To that end, the BR-M987 caliper is compatible with ICE Technologies finned disc brake pads. The new SMRT99 rotor is available in 180/160/140-millimeter sizes and utilizes a lightweight aluminum spider with fins that hel pfurther reduce excess heat.

Shimano’s new SM-BB93/SM-BB94 mountain bike bottom bracket is 19 grams lighter than the current XTR bottom bracket and is available in both press-fit and threaded versions. Shimano claims that the new BB is also better sealed than its predecessor. The latest XTR chain (the CN-M981 HG-X) gains a new, low-friction surface treatment called Sil-Tec, which, according to Shimano, increases both performance and durability.

It was only a matter of time before Shimano added carbon 29er wheels to their mountain line. The big surprise here is that they aren’t (for the moment) offering a carbon clincher. Instead, the new wheelset is a carbon tubular. Tubulars are favored by a few XC racers, but are still about as common as unicorns out on the trail.

When asked if Shimano was planning on releasing a carbon clincher in the future, Matt Robertson replied with a non-committal shrug, but we’re guessing the answer is ‘Yes.” That would be a very good thing.

At the heart of the new XTR WH-M980 carbon tubular 29-inch race wheel is a lightweight, carbon offset rim that tips the scales at a freakishly anorexic 280 grams. Twenty-eight spokes are laced to a quick engagement freehub body (36/360 degree) for improved traction. Wheelsets weigh in at 1,349 grams (for the front 15-millimeter/ rear 12-millimeter axle wheel version) and 1,298 grams (for the front 15-millimeter/ quick-release rear axle iteration).